Community Property States: List and Meaning

Nine community property states give spouses equal ownership of assets acquired while married.
Connor Emmert
By Connor Emmert 
Updated
Edited by Tina Orem

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Community property states are states in which both spouses have equal ownership of assets acquired during the marriage — called marital assets — regardless of who acquired the asset

Cornell Law School. community property. Accessed Jul 20, 2023.
. Community property states generally require divorcing couples to split assets acquired while living in the state 50/50, with some exceptions.

Community property states

Nine U.S. states are community property states, meaning they have community property laws in place that give spouses equal ownership of any assets acquired during the marriage

IRS.gov. Community property. Accessed Jul 20, 2023.
.

  • Arizona.

  • California.

  • Idaho.

  • Louisiana.

  • Nevada.

  • New Mexico.

  • Texas.

  • Washington.

  • Wisconsin.

What counts as community property?

Community property assets include:

  • Financial assets, including bank accounts.

  • Real estate.

  • Personal property, including cars, furniture and artwork.

  • Income earned.

  • Retirement accounts, including individual retirement accounts (Roth IRA) contributed to during the marriage.

  • Debt acquired by either party.

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What is not community property?

There are a few cases in which community property laws may not apply, depending on state laws. Common exclusions include:

Community property states vs. common law states

The main difference between community property states and common law states is whether spouses are entitled to joint or separate ownership of the property

.

In common law states, each spouse is entitled to full ownership of assets or property acquired separately during the marriage. Spouses in common law states can agree to a division of property as they see fit, provided that both parties sign a written agreement.

For example, they can title their home as joint tenants with rights of survivorship so that when one spouse dies, the other receives the home without having to go through probate.

Community property laws by state

Community property is determined by the state where the couple has their primary, legal residence. Some states have specific rules and regulations:

  • Community property law applies to domestic partnerships in California, Nevada, Wisconsin and Washington, meaning you may not necessarily have to be married for the law to apply.

  • You may be able to convert assets into community property in Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, South Dakota and Tennessee. However, you may need to establish a community property trust to do so. Community property trusts are a type of trust that assigns equal ownership of property to both spouses. With this kind of trust, both partners’ halves of the property’s cost basis will be “stepped up” to the current market value, which can reduce the capital gains taxes if a surviving spouse sells the property.

  • Most states require a finalized divorce decree to legally terminate the community property estate, even if the spouses no longer live together. California and Washington recognize physical separation with the intention of divorcing as grounds for termination of a community property estate.

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Frequently asked questions

Whether your property status changes depends on the state you move to. If you are considering or anticipate divorce and don't have a prenup or postnup, consider the potential financial ramifications of moving to another state while married.

  • If you move from a community property state to a common law state, the community property arrangement ends.

  • If you move from a common law state to California, Idaho, Washington or Wisconsin, any property you bring automatically falls under that state's community property laws.

  • If you move from a common law state to Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico or Texas, property ownership won’t automatically change unless you and your spouse elect to do so.

If you die while residing in a community property state, you typically cannot bequeath more than half of the assets you acquired during your marriage to anyone other than your surviving spouse (in other words, you cannot give away your surviving spouse’s half of the assets). Also, neither spouse can sell or give away community property without the other spouse’s consent.

Retirement accounts funded during a marriage are generally required to list the surviving spouse as the sole beneficiary unless a different arrangement is explicitly agreed to and signed by both spouses.

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